Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Authors: Fine-tuning a Definition of Success.

The original of this blog post was revised in 2018.
In the first blog on this topic, I explained that my definition being a “successful writer” has changed in the nearly four years I’ve been writing professionally. To review, here are the first three iterations.
My first definition of success was “get published.”
My second definition of success was “make money.”
My third definition of success was “getting books out.”

My fourth definition of success was “be patient, Grasshopper.”
The third definition of success refers to the frenzied publishing schedule I fell victim to. I know now that patient working with a book is a sign my maturation as an author.

There is no excuse or reason for publishing a book that is littered with errors in grammar, spelling, or sentence structure.
There are ways to reduce the number of those types of errors without significant financial outlay. As stand-alone options, they each have value. Used collectively, these options have more value than the sum of the individual methods.

I use only the free version. This does a good job at pointing out certain types of grammar issues, including most common comma errors. Grammarly was revised in early 2018. The free version finds fewer types of mistakes. While it is now less valuable than when I began using it, Grammarly is still a good place to start checking for errors.

Grammarly does not use the same algorithm that MSWord uses for grammar. You have to decide which of the experts you want to use for direction. Whether you use Grammarly’s grammar rules or MSWord’s rules, there will be types of grammar not checked, particularly the current free version of Grammarly.

Grammarly’s Premium upgrade carries with it a monthly fee. I don’t use that version.

This shows the current FREE version. It checks only spelling and punctuation.
Screenshot of a poorly edited file in the "old" free version of Grammarly. Clicking on the "down arrow" opened a dialog window with suggested edits--you selected the one you liked. Clicking on the red or green print made the change for you. I suspect this is included in the paid version.

This is a powerful tool. However, unless you subscribe, you have a 500-word limit to what you can check. This has an annual or multiyear fee including a lifetime offer.
This is part of the summary report offered. It scrolls down several screens.
You can have it emailed to you.
The Grammar Check screen. Each icon in the top menu bar produces a report.

The newest version (3.0.2 at the time of posting) of this inexpensive (currently $19.95 one-time cost that includes desktop use) software provides feedback in dramatic fashion. It uses various colors to highlight issues in your manuscript.
A screenshot of Hemingway. It's obvious where you need to consider your phraseology and sentence construction.
While these are valuable sources of information, all of them remove the formatting of your text. If you copy/paste or open a saved version of any of these, you have to reformat the text. 
I find it easiest to keep my original open and make the corrects in it rather than in the Grammarly or Hemingway file. The ProWritingAid copy/paste is the closest to what I uploaded.

Visual “tricks.”
Near the end of my editing process, I use two features of Word in tandem. These work because your brain’s preset for reading is black print on white paper with letters of a size regularly used in documents or books. Both tricks that follow are different enough from the norm that your brain focuses more tightly what you are reading.

First I color the background of my manuscript before editing.

This is a simple process. It’s not permanent, and the color does not print. It forces your brain to see the words differently than the normal black print on the white background you use while writing. Some background colors leave the print black. Others—dark blue, purple, and black—generate your text in white. When your brain is working outside the “norm,” it will see mistakes you’ve missed up to that time. Ultimately, more errors are found and you have a better piece of work

Second, I zoom the size of the file on my screen to at least 200%.

The oversized print forces your brain to interpret the words in a different manner—more errors are found.

For maximum benefit, switch colors and zoom levels periodically. Remember, your brain will pay closer attention to what it perceives as a new form of data—more errors are found.
This is my computer screen with the zoom at 200% and a purple background. The blue blobs are paragraph symbols. You can see the tab characters in blue as well. Notice the gray paragraph symbol in the top menu bar. I have that turned "on" whenever I write. It shows me the formatting I've selected throughout the manuscript.

Final recommendation

You wrote your story. Each word in the story was your idea. Your brain is a jealous and lazy organ. It inherently wants to keep what it thought up and delivered to your story in the first draft. It’s not good at pointing out all errors in a manuscript you wrote.

After you’ve done all the above, close the file.
Don’t look at it again for at least one week.
Two weeks without looking is better.
Three or more weeks is not too long to wait until you read through the manuscript again.

By giving your brain a break from the routine of editing, when you revisit the work, your brain is much less vested in the content. I suspect you will be shocked—or at least surprised—by the number of wrong words, punctuation errors, and sentence issues you find.

Used alone, none of these options—Grammarly à font size—is sufficient for preparing a novel-length manuscript for publication. Even if used collectively, these options are insufficient for preparing a novel-length manuscript for publication. However, each of the above is a separate edit and adds time to your writing process. “Be patient, Grasshopper.”

“Be patient, Grasshopper.”
Take time to wait until you can afford some level of professional editing or proofreading.

“Be patient, Grasshopper.”
Ask around.
Find an editor or proofreader that has good relationships with several authors.

“Be patient, Grasshopper.”
Establish a timeline that allows you to use the professional without stressing you or badgering the editor/proofreader.

My current definition of success is being able to  “do what you do because you like what you’re doing.”
This sounds like
·      I’ve turned my back on fame and fortune.
·      I’ve turned my back on fortune.
·      I’ve turned my back on productivity.
·      I’ve turned my back on goals and deadlines.

Not one of those is the case.

What I learned while writing and what I now consider to be successful writing is developing quality stories around characters people can identify with in a believable setting while navigating a well-constructed plot.

A manuscript produced through this process can be successful
·      because the time involved in that venture led to a quality end product.
·      with or without being named to a “best-seller” list.

I worked with student authors for three years. Watching them mature in their understanding of the writing process, reading the stories they developed, and listening to their conversations about lessons they’ve learned have added credence to the validity of my current definition.

I’m not naive enough to think that this is the last iteration of my definition of successful writing.
I believe it could be.
I could live the rest of my career and define my work in this way and be fulfilled.

Four years ago, I never considered any definition of writing success except “get published.”

I am grateful that my outlook has matured.

I will Review: ProWritingAid in early 2019.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Expressions of Faith: Wisdom and Understanding

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,
(Colossians 1:9 NIV)

Wisdom and Understanding

In the second part of this verse, Paul describes how we can become knowledgeable of God's will.

The Holy Spirit provides both
·      wisdom (to know something is both valuable and from God) and
·      understanding (knowing not only the what but also the importance of something from God).

It’s up to us to be attentive to the Spirit!

Next Friday's Expression of Faith: Four Reasons

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Timeless Truths: A Love that Lasts - Check your love quotient

Second post in the "Some Assembly Required" series.

Series Theme Verse

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

Healthy relationships are constantly growing.
The fruit of the Spirit is evidence of our relationship with God.
The fruit of the Spirit is not evidence of our God-gifts.

  • Notice that fruit is singular in the verse.
  • This is not a multiple-choice list.
  • We need more of each quality.
  • Some of the qualities are easier than others for each of us to exhibit.

God promises to complete His work in us . . . 

. . . We have to yield to the Holy Spirit for that to occur.

Last week recap:
God's concept of Love
1. Love is a matter of choice.
2. Love is a matter of conduct.
Choice + Conduct = Purpose

Check Your Love Quotient:

1. Love is alive when it has time, is dying when it is hurried, and is dead when it cannot wait.
Love is patient. 1 Corinthians 13:4

Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each others' faults because of your love. Ephesians 4:2

  • Growth and change take time and require patience.

2. Love is alive when cares, is dying when it forgets, and is dead when it ignores.

Love is kind. 1 Corinthians 13:4

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32

  • Kindness is the ability to care in practical ways.
  • Kindness means adapting when required.

3. Love is alive when it is secure, is dying when it starts doubting, and is dead when it stops trusting.
Love does not envy, does not boast, is not proud. 1 Corinthians 13:4

  • We all need security in a relationship.
  • God promises to stay with us for the long haul.

4. Love is alive when it is giving, is dying when it is exchanging, and is dead when it is taking.
Love is not rude or self-seeking, love is not easily angered, love keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:5

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:7

  • The best relationships occur when both sides choose to give.
  • Don't wait on the other person to give.
Sometimes love hurts. 

Love is dangerous . . . 
But love is worth the risk!

If this check of your love quotient showed that your love isn't alive in all areas, ask God to fill you with His love . . .
. . . because no one can truly love another without God's love in her/his heart.

Next week: Joy Story

Special thanks to Dr. Keith Newman for the primary teachings used in this post.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Reprise. A Science Guy's Almanac #4: What John Glenn and I have in common - Re: 2/20/1962

This was one of my first Almanac posts. 
It is appropriate to reprise it today because
1. It's the actual anniversary of the event (and my b'day)
2. The movie "Hidden Figures" features this event and is just ending its run in theaters.
3. John Glenn died in December of 2016. USA Today report.

Re: February 20, 1962

My twelfth birthday was February 20, 1962. On that morning, John Glenn blasted off from Cape Canaveral in a tiny Mercury space capsule. As far as I know, my birthdate and Glenn's orbital mission are all I have in common with the astronaut. 

His mission was to be the first American to orbit the earth. The photograph below shows Glenn standing beside his wife and Friendship 7 in 2002. You can see the size of the capsule—just big enough for one astronaut and the electronics to keep him up. And hopefully bring him down safely.

Notice in the diagram of the capsule that its technical name included the term ballistic. In reality, Glenn’s spacecraft sat atop at huge missile—really a metal tube filled with explosive fuel—so the ballistic descriptor was more accurate than anyone really wanted to admit.

The sum total of the computing power of Friendship 7 was, using a generous term, small. By today’s standards, microscopic would be more appropriate. The majority of the computing during the slightly less than 5-hour flight was done at Goddard Space Center in Maryland. The amount of technology actually available to Glenn was far less than a 2015 smartphone. Or as one comment made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the flight reads:

It's amazing to think that the tiny laptop that I'm posting this from has hundreds of times the computing power than was involved in the whole Friendship project.

I remember sitting a watching the lift off. We were mesmerized. We watched the splashdown on television at school.

Splashdown. That’s what they called all the Mercury and Apollo landings. The small crafts crashed into the ocean. There were parachutes that slowed the descent somewhat, but the astronauts splashed into the sea. Inflatable bags—labeled RECOVERY AIDS in the diagram—deployed and a beacon began transmitting.

Over a dozen Navy vessels were in the general area of the planned splashdown. At least one had to arrive before the minimal flotation system failed and the capsule—most probably with the astronaut inside—would sink into the briny deep.

According to the New York Daily News the day after the event:

But the astronaut, who had maintained part-manual control of the space capsule for the last two orbits, dropped gently to a safe parachute landing in the Atlantic 800 miles southeast of this launch site.
Remaining inside the capsule, Glenn was swiftly picked up by the destroyer Noa, a recovery ship on station a scant six miles from the spot where the spacecraft touched down at 2:43 P.M.

Wikipedia portrays a slightly more time-distant perspective.
According to a chart printed in the NASA publication Results of the First United States Manned Orbital Space Flight, Feb. 20, 1962, the spacecraft splashed down in the Atlantic at coordinates near 21°20′N 68°40′W, 40 miles (60 km) short of the planned landing zone. Retrofire calculations had not taken into account spacecraft weight loss due to use of onboard consumables. The USS Noa, a destroyer code-named Steelhead, had spotted the spacecraft when it was descending on its parachute. The destroyer was about six miles (10 km) away when it radioed Glenn that it would reach him shortly. The Noa came alongside Friendship 7 seventeen minutes later.

What the USA had shown was the ability to put a man in orbit and bring him back alive. We were all sure that America would easily meet President Kennedy’s ten-year timeline to reach the surface of the moon.

I was the proudest kid at Spring Valley Elementary School that day! It all happened on my birthday.

Next AlmanacExponential ankle weirdness 

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